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Japanese Protest Continued Use of Nuclear Power on Fukushima Anniversary

March 17, 2012

A Japanese organiser addresses the crowd of supporters at an anti-nuclear rally on the north west corner of Union Square on Sunday, March 11, 2012.

Staff Writer

On Sunday, March 11th millions in Japan took part in or watched the national memorial of the first anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. With an estimated 20,000 killed, over 200,000 displaced and the lives of millions disrupted, it was an emotional day by any standard. Not all, however, chose to observe the day as one of silence or meditation. Tens of thousands took to the streets to protest the

ongoing use of nuclear power, the contamination in Japan and concerns over people’s health.

Half a world away, the local Japanese community took part in similar activities, with some preferring a memorial service and others taking to the streets to demand a halt to the Indian Point power plant in New York.

The group in question, 3/11 Action New York, held a rally at the northwest corner of Union Square. Beginning at 1 pm, Japanese and American organisers stood next to a marching band and explained why they opposed nuclear power.  “After one year, the nuclear disaster has not been solved at all, and the situation is deteriorating,” said Kazuko Ito, Secretary General of Human Rights Now, a group based in Tokyo. Ms. Ito made it clear that she is deeply concerned about the lives of people in Fukushima. She made a special appeal to “the international community” to help the vulnerable living outside the exclusion zone who, she said, have no choice but to remain in the affected areas since the government have not provided any compensation to relocate. Some speculate the increased exposure to radiation might cause future cancers or birth defects; the Japanese government insists that a release equivalent to 168 Hiroshima bombs is not going to cause any immediate health effects, and have begun to offer medical screenings for Fukushima residents.

Ms. Ito pointed to two mothers who had travelled from Fukushima Prefecture to speak about their ordeal, one of whom – along with her 10-year-old son – had been interviewed by ABC.

Ito and other speakers at the event drew comparisons with the Indian Point nuclear plant in upstate New York and the possibility of an earthquake hitting it one day. “Here in New York we are at risk of a Fukushima-style disaster. Nuclear power is a disaster,” shouted Peter Rugh of Occupy Wall Street to an approving crowd of over 100 hundred people. “We’re organising in this city to shut down our own Fukushima before it happens.” Though New York does not get a lot of earthquakes on the magnitude of the one that struck Japan, protesters sounded the alarm, saying that the risk of an earthquake, however small, outweighed the benefit of nuclear power. Instead, they  proposed instead heavy investment in renewable energy, which they said the US and Japan are technologically capable of achieving.

Following the Fukushima disaster last spring, the Japanese government decided to reorganise the nuclear agency charged with overseeing the 54 commercial reactors in Japan and no longer leave it under control of the Ministry of Economy. Due to go into effect this April, it is not clear if it will help to restore the badly shaken confidence in the Japanese government, which did not admit to the three meltdowns in March when it knew of them; it was only when TEPCO revealed the existence of the triple meltdowns in May that some realised the extent to which the Japanese government and TEPCO covered over the facts, protesters argued. Protesters in New York on Sunday made it clear they did not trust either the Japanese agency or its American counterpart, the NRC, to keep communities safe. “The NRC is the lapdog of the nuclear industry,” sang a group of grandmothers as others mimicked dog howls. “Shut it down,” they chanted repeatedly in reference to Indian Point, a power plant located about 30 miles north of NYC. If an accident should occur, NYC would fall well within the exclusion zone, organisers said.

A Japanese man holds a sign calling for New York to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant as he marches with the crowd on March 11, 2012.

One of the points demonstrators addressed is the massive cleanup operation in Japan. The burning of debris is a controversial matter, with sometimes fierce opposition on the part of residents, such as with the burning of wood during Obon in the summer of 2011. Prime Minister Noda’s government increased the pressure on local municipalities to cooperate in its nationwide programme of burning debris all over Japan by sending letters on March 16th; many local administrations are bowing to the pressure, reports EX-SKF, a prominent anti-nuclear media site. Opponents say  that the burning of contaminated debris could endanger their health, an argument echoed on Sunday by 3/11 Action New York. The Japanese government have set a limit of 8,000 becquerels for these items and insist the practice is safe. In a press conference reported on in the Japan Times, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura said that the rubble was not from near the plant, and insinuated that the people were mistaken to believe the debris contained harmful levels of radiation. With the widespread proliferation of radiation way beyond the borders of Fukushima Prefecture, however, the government concedes it must conduct tests to demonstrate that any debris is below its standard.

Following the rally in New York, demonstrators marched from E. 17th Street to Central Park, where a small remnant decided to stage a protest outside the residence of the Japanese Counsel General. Referring to a speech protesters said he had given on March 10th, one unnamed Japanese woman said through a blow horn, “I was so disappointed….you didn’t mention anything about n

uclear power or evacuees from Fukushima.” She concluded by saying that “contamination is everywhere,” and was followed by a about a dozen protesters who chanted “sayonara nukes” (goodbye nuclear power in English) and “shame on you.” No one from the Counsel’s residence responded to the protesters demands or appeared to give a comment, though they were met by a security agent who prevented protesters from placing yellow balloons near the home of the Counsel General. The Counsel General could not have responded to the protesters, as he was likely still at the inter-faith ceremony at Judson Memorial Church, as was later reported in the Mainichi newspaper.

Reporting of this event received little coverage in the American and Japanese press, which put much more emphasis on the ceremonies than on protests. The Maninchi newspaper briefly discussed the New York protest in a March 12 article, giving the attendance at “more than 100 people.” Protesters present at the event, however, estimated about 200 people present.

With the emperor and prime minister leading solemn moment of silence in an event televised round the world, one could understand the deep emotional significance such a day had. Attendance at some Japanese protests was likely reduced due to the reluctance of Japanese to mix mourning with protests, reports William Milberry  from Japan.

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Civis Journal 2012.

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